Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle

A lot has been written about Madeleine L'Engle since her death last Thursday, some in appreciation of her children's books and some in appreciation of her more religious or adult work. I was privileged to meet her in 1990 at an autographing for The Glorious Impossible at the old Scribner's, then a Brentano's on Fifth Avenue. She signed the picture book but now I wish I had asked her to sign the beautiful Giotto inspired poster that went with the book, and which I later had framed. There were so many people in line (I remember the group behind me had driven all the way from KY) that we did not get more than a minute or two with the author but it was still very exciting to talk to her. She seemed interested to hear that my favorite book was And Both Were Young, which she said was an unusual choice and was partially based on her own boarding school experience.

A Washington Post writer in a nice tribute implies that we readers love Meg Murry because she is like us: awkward and gangly. That may be true but it ignores two important things - 1) all of L'Engle's heroines are slightly awkward - they are mostly late bloomers, quirky and intelligent, and 2) A Wrinkle in Time is about much more than Meg and her teenage angst. L'Engle wrote about Meg, not so her readers could identify with a heroine but because she saw herself in Meg and because there was a strength in Meg that transcends the science/magic in that novel. Meg's sister Suzy, much prettier and more easily brilliant, is never the heroine (although memorable in her own way; I did quote her feelings about eating pigs in an animal rights paper I wrote several years ago).

Similarly, Flip, in And Both Were Young, at first inarticulate and awkward, eventually blossoms in an alien environment once she gains confidence. Encouraged by a French boy she meets on the mountains and by an art teacher who recognizes her talent, she becomes the means through which all the other characters are fulfilled. She actually changes and matures more than Meg, although less dramatically. Although this book is part of the boarding school genre I love, it is by far one of the best, both in its realistic portrayal of the negative aspects of school life and its cast of diverse and multidimensional characters (including the actual presence of an attractive teenage boy).

One article, written by a family friend, quoted her as saying, "Did you ever realize that if you spell live backwards you come up with the word evil?" she once said with a devilish grin. "To live, you know, you have to be just a teeny bit evil and wicked."

That is my kind of author!

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